Breaking down the twists of Final Fantasy 14 Endwalker with Naoki Yoshida and Natsuko Ishikawa

Natsuko Ishikawa and Naoki Yoshida had a monumental task: wrapping up development of a decade-long story in Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker, the climactic expansion to the Hydaelyn and Zodiark plot arc. Now, several story patches and a whopping great expansion later, Ishikawa and Yoshida have, by all accounts, stuck the landing.

Getting to Endwalker has been a long road, though. Square Enix debuted the Shadowbringers expansion in 2019, a story which is still widely seen as the highpoint of Final Fantasy 14’s expansive saga. “I don’t think I was consciously feeling any pressure about living up to Shadowbringers,” says Ishikawa, who penned the stories of both Shadowbringers and Endwalker. 

It turns out Ishikawa is just like the rest of us, telling ourselves our work isn’t good enough no matter how much praise is heaped upon it. Ishikawa views the end result of her work as “far from perfect,” but does admit that in any scenario, making Final Fantasy 14’s finale a fitting conclusion was always going to be tough to achieve. After 11 years of story development, it’s easy to see why Ishikawa was feeling a little pressure going into Endwalker, but the writer says she nonetheless enjoyed working on the concluding chapter, as it’s not often one gets the chance to write the ending to such a long-running saga.

Twists and turns 

Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker

(Image credit: Square Enix)

The latest expansion, Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker, had it all: characters switching bodies, a new tribe of adorable denizens in the Loporrits, a threat that could wipe out all existence in the known universe, and gloomy war stories which would rival Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies in morbidity in the Garlemald section of the story. 

The Garlemald segment, with its bombed-out streets and lifeless populace, was horrifying. “It was one of the most difficult scenarios to write in Endwalker” says director Yoshida, adding that it was necessary to portray the lives of everyday Garleans because we had never met any of them in our 11 years playing Final Fantasy 14. Yoshida reckons players imagine huge war machines and stoic generals when they think of Garlemald, so flipping the script to show the lives of ordinary citizens instead was paramount. 

For Ishikawa, Garlemald drew inspiration from war documentaries. “While we hope the problems will be solved, we won’t always be able to see that resolution at the end of the program,” Ishikawa says, adding that she deliberately made sure all the narrative pieces didn’t fit together so the player would be left pondering the situation. Ishikawa wanted Garlemald to show players the magnitude of the war-torn problem, and leave them open to questioning what they would actually do about the situation.

Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker

(Image credit: Square Enix)

“I posed that very question to Alphinaud and the other [characters] by daring to write about the conflict just how it was, with things not proceeding the way the group of heroes wanted,” Ishikawa says. As such, the writer was able to construct a plot line through Garlemald that challenged our heroes to proceed while suffering and agonizing over setbacks, which is the hope through strength that Hydaelyn discovered to ward off destruction of the universe. No pressure, then.

Near the conclusion of the Garlemald section of Endwalker, things got weird. Our Warrior of Light temporarily switched bodies with a common Garlemald soldier, and was promptly kidnapped by Fandaniel for a dinner party with archvillain Zenos. That’s a whacky plot twist (and Yoshida teases that he “adjusted” the original scene from Ishikawa), but for Ishikawa it’s much more simple: Zenos wanted to do it because it was interesting to him – nothing more, nothing less.

In fact, Ishikawa thinks we’re a bit quick to judge Zenos by his domineering appearance, glowering sneer, and bloody scythe the size of a human. It’s that Zenos is willing to go through “whatever trial and error it takes” in order to achieve his goals that separates him from the player character, Ishikawa believes. Yes, Zenos does think about only himself, and that can have dire consequences for those around him, but it’s his drive to do whatever he believes is necessary to achieve his goals that truly separates him from anything we are able to do as players.

Zenos has been a threat to players for years. The villain’s story was wrapped up in Endwalker, just like the Hydaelyn and Zodiark arc, and both Yoshida and Ishikawa are very happy with the end result. “His story needed no further embellishment, nor any further happiness or misery,” says Ishikawa, adding that because Zenos wasn’t concerned with how others saw him, she had no hesitation in writing out the closure of his story. Yoshida, on the other hand, says Zenos was the only one who saw the Warrior of Light as a simple adventurer again, joking that when the villain asks “did you find… fulfillment?”, that doubles as a question from the development team to the player.

Dastardly deeds 

Final Fantasy 14

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Partway through Endwalker, a familiar face appears: Emet-Selch, the immensely popular villain of Shadowbringers returns to interact with players and significantly shake up Endwalker’s story. Yoshida immediately shoots down the possibility of Emet-Selch having been resurrected in Endwalker because of his popularity, outlining that it was because the villain was originally conceived as “taking on another stage” in post-Shadowbringers patches, that he naturally became attached to Endwalker.

While in the throes of outlining those Endwalker beats, Final Fantasy 14’s development team were still considering whether or not to conclude the Hydaelyn and Zodiark story then-unannounced 6.0 update. “As such, we hadn’t decided exactly how we were going to present the episode about the ancients,” says Ishikawa, adding that this is what led to her suggesting that Emet-Selch be returned to the Aetherial Sea in patch 5.3. 

To make matters more complicated, Yoshida dictated that Emet-Selch would narrate Endwalker’s opening movie as a disembodied voice. In response, Ishikawa decided she’d go “all out” writing Emet-Selch’s part of Endwalker, and the villain’s triumphant return in the Elpis section was born, as the expansion’s content was fully outlined by the development team.

Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Emet-Selch wasn’t the actual antagonist in Endwalker, though. That honor belongs to Meteion – or does it? Ishikawa strongly disputes Meteion being an actual antagonist, hypothesizing that the alien lifeforms that filled her with despair might be the real bad guys here. “This story will puzzle those who are trying to find an ‘enemy’ or ‘evil,'” the writer says, pointing to the various enemies and bosses you encounter as the only clear “enemies” throughout Endwalker.

Having the Scions give their lives in the struggle against Meteion in Ultima Thule was breathtaking, and that’s exactly the way Ishikawa wanted it. “I didn’t want the battle against the despair of the stars in Ultima Thule to be a contest of ‘who’s got the better way with words,'” she says, adding that the Scions all expressed despair when descending from the Ragnarok, but these words were only a small part of their story.

“I thought it would be better to ‘finish off’ each Scion in a way that the player can’t see,” Ishikawa adds. The writer wanted players to “believe and continue forward” with the hope that the Scions would eventually reappear. It’s those who forged ahead and believed, Ishikawa says, that were treated to experience the ending with the Scions returning.

To the future 

Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Final Fantasy 14’s arc concluded in update 6.0, but that wasn’t always the case. Yoshida acknowledges that they could’ve very easily stretched out the plot into update 7.0, or even 8.0, but it “would not have been able to create the impact and release of emotions” that Endwalker did.. 

As for the future of Final Fantasy 14, there’s plenty left to explore. “There are still plenty of adventures to be had in Etheirys,” says Yoshida, adding with a chuckle that with the power of Dynamis, the adventure never ends. Ishikawa has quite the teaser for the future: “Is there still more to explore you ask? Hmm, now didn’t Emet-Selch mention something about that…?”

Check out our complete Final Fantasy 14 Endwalker review for everything you need to know about the climactic expansion.

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